TWO POSITIVE POLLS for the Coalition in two weeks have been shown up as the rogues this column always called them as, with Newspoll in The Australian today finding the Abbott government losing ground and now trailing Labor by 10 points after preferences; the result reflects the government’s standing in the electorate, highlighting the importance of the looming budget. It is also likely — ominously — to reignite Liberal leadership speculation.
Somewhat poetically, when the Newspoll figures came through at about 10.30pm in Melbourne last night, I was part-way through writing another article, one with Joe Hockey as the central figure; yet whilst the Hockey piece remains important (and will most likely appear in this column this evening), Newspoll’s message was clear enough for me to stop what I was doing — and write something else instead.
That message, of course, is that the more things appear to change, the more they stay the same; and in this vein, Newspoll’s finding that the Coalition sits ten points behind the ALP after preferences should surprise nobody.
And ironically, the Hockey article — the portion of which I have already completed will probably be adjusted slightly before I finish the rest of it — is integral to the government’s problems in a “moving forward” kind of way (and my apologies again, but we seem to be using that Gillardesque phrase a bit too much of late).
Two polls in two weeks — a Newspoll last fortnight showing a four-point improvement in the Abbott government’s electoral stocks followed by an abomination from Fairfax-Ipsos purporting to show the Coalition about to hit the lead — looked suspiciously like rogue findings, and I instantly called them as such when they were published; I have said as much in this column using rather more guarded language, but in private conversations in the past fortnight I’ve been quite blunt and emphatic that I don’t believe the polls and that I thought these two outliers should be disregarded altogether, and so it has now proven to be.
My rationale? Aside from anything else, the Coalition — and Prime Minister Tony Abbott — had done nothing since last month’s abortive leadership spill attempt to warrant, justify or explain away such substantial movements toward them in the eyes of the voting public.
There is nothing to be surprised about, therefore, in Newspoll’s finding that Coalition support on the two-party measure has declined by two points since its previous survey to sit at just 45%.
If anything, with Labor and the
Communist Party Greens sharing 51% of the primary vote — effectively giving Labor primary support of close to 50%, on the underlying assumption that 80% of the Greens’ vote will flow to Labor on preferences anyway — 45% may even be a generous estimate on the measure for the Coalition, remembering that historical precedents suggest the government can really only rely on about half the 11% cast for “Others” to build on its 38% primary vote among Newspoll’s respondents.
A modest improvement in Abbott’s personal ratings does no more than return them to the same (dismal) levels they have mostly sat at since he became Liberal leader in December 2009, with 28% (up 3%) of respondents approving of the job he is doing and 63% (down 5%) saying they don’t.
But Labor “leader” Bill Shorten makes ground on the personal approval numbers too, with 39% (up 4%) saying the approve of the way he is doing his job and 42% (down 7%) indicating they don’t; and on the “preferred PM” question Shorten’s lead puffs out that little bit more, with 44% (+1%) preferring him to Abbott on 33% (-2%).
Readers can access the current Newspoll tables here.
Aside from anything else, every finding in this Newspoll — including the slightly better but still decrepit approval numbers for Abbott — is an embarrassment for the Coalition, cock-a-hoop as it has been over the iron sulphite bauble of a poll-driven “recovery” that has proven to be the mirage any astute observer could have divined at a glance in the past two weeks.
And if nothing else, it underlines the real and urgent imperative faced by the Coalition to stop messing around with Bill Shorten — “marginalisation” strategies in particular — and to find some way to turn the mountain of meaningless bullshit and vacuous drivel that constitutes Shorten’s contribution to the national debate against him.
This is a bad poll for the government, and not simply because, in isolation, it shows the Coalition ten points down in a hypothetical electoral contest.
Rather, it simply returns the Coalition’s numbers squarely to the average of what they have been for the past year: and whilst an election held this weekend might produce a result that deviates by a point or so either way from Newspoll’s findings, the trend lines across the reputable polls have been so settled now for so long that it is inconceivable that they herald anything other than a thumping defeat when the Liberals next face the polls — unless something changes, and drastically so, very quickly.
And no, I am not talking about a leadership change.
But a leadership change is exactly the discussion these numbers will spark anew; the continued mutterings in the wake of the first attempt to get rid of Abbott — fuelled, no less, by some pretty ordinary actions emanating from the Prime Ministerial bunker — fell silent last week not because Abbott had somehow hit his straps, but because the erroneous Newspoll published in The Australian a fortnight ago bought him time: a window of opportunity held open by the ridiculous 51-49 ALP lead “identified” by the Fairfax-Ipsos survey a week later.
The mutterers — to be blunt — will now resume their muttering.
As readers know, I had all but written Abbott off; I do think his performance has been much improved in the past week or so, but it doesn’t change the fact that almost all of the things that a month ago were contributing to the government’s apparently inevitable eventual meeting with its own political mortality remain very much still in place.
The unmitigated political liability of his Chief of Staff, Peta Credlin.
The coterie of advisers, “strategists” and “tacticians” recruited under her strict personal decree who have been found out — courtesy of the government’s fraught political plight — to be mostly useless.
The liability of Treasurer Joe Hockey who remains in his portfolio after delivering easily the worst federal budget of any Liberal Treasurer last year in the party’s 70-year history.
Other ministers who continue to occupy senior roles, at the expense of some brilliant backbench talent, who could and should have been dispensed with in the botched reshuffle undertaken before Christmas.
For all the “resets” and “restarts” and “barnacle removals” Tony Abbott has announced in the past three months, it is telling that not one change of any real consequence to the Liberals’ electoral fortunes has actually been made; fiddles, semantics, scapegoat mounting and a lot of talk about change, certainly, but the real changes to ensure his administration’s fortification and survival have been squibbed: it has been more of a priority, it seems, not to stand on the toes of maaates than it is to make the hard calls required to fix the misfiring government.
But when the leadership rumours recommence in the next few days — replete with posturing, leaks and denials from all and sundry — Abbott will only have himself to blame; NSW Premier Mike Baird must be wondering what he has done to deserve it, given he — like Campbell Newman six weeks ago — is set to face voters in his state armed with a huge majority that polling suggests may be all but eliminated.
And the problem of the May budget — bearing down like a freight train with faulty brakes — takes on a fresh urgency altogether, and I stand by my position that not only must Hockey be replaced, but that no Liberal can have any confidence that a second budget delivered by Hockey would be any less politically suicidal than the first one was.
I hope those Abbott government people who had a day off yesterday with a public holiday enjoyed it, and are a little fresher for the extra time to relax.
They are going to need to be: this poll is disastrous. It will only be a matter of days before the fallout from it is felt.